Book writing is hard. It is not a secret, everyone tells you how hard it is. All the pit falls, how you’ll cry when you kill off one of your characters, how you’ll cry when you hit a writers block, how you’ll cry when the book is over. (Basically everyone tells you to prepare for a lot of tears. Buy a bucket because you’ll need one. For your tears.) The BIGGEST emotional hurdle everyone talks about is getting an agent to pick you up so that you can get published. They are taking a big risk on you, if your book tanks they don’t get squat. They have to feel some kind of connection in those first couple of pages or they won’t think you are worth that risk.
It’s like online dating. You get a quick look and if you don’t connect right away then you pass. If you do connect, then you say yes and ask for more hoping that this may be the one. This is why writers talk about the process of getting an agent so much. Because sending your novel out into the cold cruel world and letting it be judged and picked last in kickball is the very last thing you want to do. But it’s a necessary risk.
So, I was prepared when I sent my first four letters. Not to say that I wasn’t freaking out, because I was. All these thoughts were rolling around in my usually calm head. What if they hate it. What if they email back and say that my writing sucks and that I might as well give up because no one is going to publish it. Or what if they love it? What if they write back and they love it so much that they must have it now? Am I ready for that commitment? Am I ready for others to see it? Add this to the list of crazy that is me right now.
I checked my email every 5 seconds after I sent my letters out. You are being crazy, it’s a Sunday night and no one is going to get back to you in 5 seconds. Give them at least 10. I kept doing it anyway. Only 5 days after I sent my letters was doing a standard 5 second email check when I saw that I had actually received an email back. I opened it as fast as I could to the sight of the kindest, most heartfelt rejection letter I have ever read.
I was prepared for this. All these writers I had followed for such a long time had taught me not to get my hopes up, and it would have been insane to think that the first person I contacted was the one. So when the rejection hit, my heart seemed ok. I was bummed, but I didn’t seem to be bleeding out. I kept saying, It’s ok, it just wasn’t her style. I will connect with someone else. Just keep going about business as usual. And I did. It took me a couple of days to realize that I was in fact bleeding; that there were some old insecurities leaking out that I hadn’t noticed. I was sitting looking at my book thinking about my rejection letter in the evening just a couple nights later thinking, What about my book did not connect with her? Is it my writing? Maybe I should change it to make it something she would connect with more.
This was an unconscious thought. One of those things that just passes through your head without your intention bent upon it, like, should I get up to pee? or I wonder what would happen if I ate this entire bag of chips in one sitting. The thought passed through like words said by someone else while I was half listening, and I froze.
Wanting to change myself for others is something I have done my whole life. That teacher that didn’t like my paper, that popular peer that just didn’t want to hang out with me, that boy was only my friend but I wanted more. I looked at the things they wanted, the people they associated with. The students they liked, the friends they had, the girls they dated. People and traits that just weren’t me. And I tried to alter myself to be a person that they would want. She writes with a lot of emotion and the teacher always praises her, maybe I should try that. All of her friends go out drinking together on Fridays. All of the girls he dates act ditzy.
I am sure you can guess how all of this turned out. Changing myself didn’t make anyone choose me more. If anything it made them choose me less. Because people see you. Whether you really want them to or not. They can tell when you aren’t being yourself.
People say, “just be yourself,” like it is this easy thing that you can just do. Being yourself is freaking hard. It is being alone in the silence of your mind, listening to your greatest critic speak the harshest words in a space that you cannot escape. It is pushing down insecurities, and finding out what being you actually means. I have fought for years to find this person that feels like me, without regard for anyone else, and guess what? I still slip up.
I was sitting there, in front of the novel I had written, thinking about all the things I should have been for this agent. All the things I could have written differently, all the characters I could have changed, the narrator’s voice I could have made stronger. And I realized that I was trying to alter myself for someone else, after all this time vowing that I would no longer fall victim to this mistake.
This book is me. It is my voice, my words, my sweat and tears. If I change it so that an agent likes it, then I have destroyed the reason I began in the first place. When I started writing it was for me. It was a mental place that I could be myself in a time that I was physically and emotionally forced to be someone else. I always said that its existence was enough for me. That the sheer presence of a book that I spent my own time writing with my own hands, was more than anything I could ever ask for. I won’t let myself negate that because one person did not connect.
I am more than my insecurities. I spent too much time trying to figure out how to connect with people. I finally realized that they were never people I was meant to connect with. Do I still crave the attention of certain individuals? Of course. But I am aware of that feeling of connection now. Whether I find a person to be super cool or not if we don’t connect then no amount of pushing myself onto them is going to change that. And that is good. I am tremendously happy that this agent was honest with her words to me. “You deserve an agent who is as passionate about this project that you are, and confident in his or her ability to position it with the right publishing home.” We didn’t connect, but I am glad she got to see me. Just the real deal, honest, crazy, me.